Military attorneys representing former CIA captives detained in a top secret camp at Guantanamo have called on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to examine whether the head of the prison’s guard force is fit for command.
Col. John Bogdan, the commander of Guantanamo’s Joint Detention Group, has been singled out by the defense lawyers for revamping dormant policies, such as inspections of Qurans and genital patdowns, that gave rise to a hunger strike, now entering its fourth month.
“Although we represent so-called ‘high value detainees, many of our concerns relate to the treatment of all prisoners, to include men whose internment appears to be indefinite” states a 13-page letter and signed by nineteen attorneys, including several who represent self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the alleged architect behind the USS Cole bombing, sent to Hagel on Monday. “There has been a serious degradation in the quality of life for detainees in Guantanamo Bay over the past year. This change appears to have coincided with the arrival of the new Joint Detention Group Commander, Col. John V. Bogdan.”
Army Captain Jason Wright, who is defending Mohammed before a military tribunal and also represents an Afghan prisoner named Obaidullah, one of the hunger strikers, told Al Jazeera the letter was prompted by “years of inaction by the US government.”
“Sadly, no none has been watching Guantanamo, much less responding to repeated concerns of uniformed service members about what is really happening down there,” Wright says. “It is important to highlight that this is a peaceful, political protest by the majority of the men in Camps five and six who have been cleared for release and who are otherwise innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law. It is shameful that [Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, which operates the prison] has responded to the hunger strike, not only by forcibly feeding [prisoners] in violation of international law, but by punishing them and placing them in conditions tantamount to solitary confinement. America is better than this.”
The letter was sent to Hagel three days before President Obama is due to give a major speech about his counterterrorism policies, which will include a discussion about Guantanamo.
Bogdan became the warden of the prison last June. Three months after he settled in, a Yemeni prisoner named Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif was found unconscious in his cell and was pronounced dead at the detention hospital. An autopsy report concluded that Latif committed suicide by ingesting mass quantities of anti-psychotic medication. However, his death is still under investigation.
Following Latif’s death, according to the accounts several prisoners’ communicated to their attorneys, Bogdan ordered a shakedown of their cells and guards confiscated personal items, which included pictures, legal papers, eyeglasses and isomats.
In January, an Afghan Taliban prisoner was shot in the throat in the recreation yard with a non-lethal round for allegedly trying to climb a fence. In early February, the prisoners’ Qurans were inspected for contraband. The handling of the holy books immediately led to the hunger strike.
Prisoners have told their attorneys since they launched their protest they have been physically abused by guards, subjected to sleep deprivation and forced cell extractions, denied potable water and have had the temperature in their prison cells turned down to freezing cold temperatures.
In mid-April, on Bogdan’s orders, guards staged a pre-dawn raid at the communal camp and isolated all of the prisoners into single cells in what was seen by attorneys and human rights groups as an attempt to break the hunger strike. If that was the hope it had the opposite effect as the number of prisoners who joined the protest doubled.
The military has vehemently denied the allegations. But the attorneys said in their letter if steps are not immediately taken to improve the quality of life for the prisoners, “Death - whether by suicide, starvation, organ failure, or associated complications - is imminent.”
Along with their letter, the attorneys also sent Hagel an August 2011 report prepared for the United Nations General Assembly by the UN’s special rapporteur for torture, which said solitary confinement rose to the level of inhumane and degrading treatment.
|US Military attorneys say detainees are not being treated humanely [Jason Leopold/Al Jazeera]
Reached for comment late Monday, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, told Al Jazeera, "The Department does not discuss correspondence addressed to the Secretary, in the press.”
The attorneys’ letter said in addition to the inhumane living conditions hunger-striking prisoners residing in the two main prison camps - 5 and 6 - have been living under, 14 high-value detainees residing in Camp seven, a classified facility, are also not being treated humanely, an issue the attorneys raised with the Pentagon in a dozen previous letters that have gone unanswered. They have called for Hagel to immediately authorize an independent monitoring committee to investigate conditions of confinement at Guantanamo.
“You could change the course and the consequences of the hunger strike right now Secretary Hagel by taking ownership of these issued during the political stalemate” between President Obama and Congress over how to shutter the prison, the letter says. “At stake, as you know, is not just the inalienable right to human dignity - to be treated like a human being - but America’s standing in the world.”
Separately, the attorneys, citing a law school investigation, said Bogdan may have perjured himself when he testified before the military commissions earlier this year in Mohammed’s case about secret listening devices designed to look like smoke detectors that were placed in the rooms where attorneys meet with prisoners, but were never turned on. The investigation by Seton Hall University’s Center for Policy and Research concluded that Bogdan’s testimony was inconsistent about what he knew and when he knew it. The Seton Hall report was co-written by former Guantanamo guard Joseph Hickman.
“While Seton Hall’s finding are sufficient grounds to examine COL Bogdan’s fitness to command the Joint Detention Group, his leadership should warrant further scrutiny based on the rapidly deteriorating conditions under his command and his heavy-handed response to the current hunger strike,” the attorneys wrote.
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